Gastronomy 101, a blog about food and Los Angeles restaurants

RESTAURANT: Mazzarino's Italian

Being an attorney I generally spend my lunch hour one of three ways: (1) hunched over my home brought lunch before my computer, trying desperately not to spill sauce or salad dressing or what-have-you all over my keyboard or the files; (2) running to the Whole Foods or gas station to purchase whatever I can eat quickly and cleanly, yet still healthily, while racking up yet another billable hour (like now: fruit salad perched on my desk, bag o' pretzels propped up by my foot, and bag of almonds on my side table; WordPerfect open ready to draft letter); or (3) running to the taco stand to get tacos/taquitos/quesadilla to chow down in a few minutes while I take a little break and look at the internet. Not very relaxing, not all that fun.

But then there are some days when I've had enough. Generally I have been through a stressful couple of days, and suddenly there is a lull. My boss is out of the office. And I almost always have an enormous headache on these days. On these days, I need a sit down lunch. On these days I need a lunch that is substantial and not so much healthy. I could go to Hugo's, it is sit-down, it IS healthy, but still substantial. It is a LONG wait. It is the only place around here for Hollywood types to go and get their vegetarian/vegan on and it's always packed.

So I walk right by and pop right into your grandpa's Italian place, Mazzarino's. It has everything I need. It is dark and soothing to sore heads. It looks exactly as this type of Italian place should look, with red and white tablecloths and plastic baskets of garlic bread (super good garlic bread loaded with parmesan cheese) and just one waiter who is super nice and knows pretty much everyone who comes in to eat, and on busman who is always prompt with drinks and bread and will bring you pretty much anything you ask for, even if you probably really shouldn't get it for free (like a whole extra french roll so you can take home your giant hot beef sandwich and make yourself a whole new sandwich tomorrow).

You get lots of food here. First, the supply of garlic bread is endless. The lunch specials come with all kinds of extra stuff. I believe that eggplant parmigiana is one of their specialties, but eggplant is a tecture problem for me so I haven't tried it. I have tried:

Slice of pizza, salad, and soda lunch special ($5.50). This is what I get most often because it's the perfect size of meal and very economical. The salad is just what you'd expect--iceberg lettuce, choice of dressing, a couple of cherry tomatoes and some carrot shreds. It's just enough to give you the illusion of healthfulness to offset the pizza. The pizza is always fresh with a crispy, thin crust. It has more cheese than tomato sauce which is the way I like it.

Hot beef sandwich. This is a lot of beef. It comes with your choice of sweet or spicy peppers and other than that it's just beef, beef juice, and bread. Unfortunately, the bread could not hold up to the sheer amount of beef and juice and was really soggy in parts, which is why I needed to take home a whole extra roll with me. I could barely eat half of the sandwich and even that was kind of too much beef. I would prefer less beef and less sog, for easier handling.

Lizzi's Heavenly sandwich. This is mozzarella, prosciutto, tomato and basil on a roll. They give you olive oil and balsamic vinegar to drizzle on to your taste as well. This sandwich was awesome. I don't like tomato, so I removed them, although I forced myself to eat half of them after taking them out of the sandwich so the waiter wouldn't come ask me about taking the tomatoes out. But the mozzarella was a thick slab of fluffy, fresh mozzarella, with only enough prosciutto to add a pleasant saltiness that wasn't overwhelming. The basil was kind of hard to eat because you kind of had to break the leaves with your teeth, but it was also fresh and flavorful. I think this is my favorite thing so far, but it's a big meal, so I would still stick with the pizza slice if I wasn't that hungry.

Most of the time they don't even bring me a bill, the waiter just tells me my total and trusts me to leave it on the table whenever I'm ready to go. And when I am, I always start the walk back to the office refreshed and my headache always disappears in the comforting dimness and filling food.


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